Dr Frazier Goes KLRing in the US

July 7, 2008
Dr. Gregory Frazier
Dr. Gregory Frazier
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Having made multiple runs across the globe, round-the-world adventurer Dr. Frazier imparts some of his motorcycle traveling wisdom in his monthly Dr. Frazier Rides column.

There is plenty of adventure riding in the USA  and the KLR 650 is a good way to do it.
You don’t have to travel to the four corners of the Earth to go on a journey. There is plenty of great adventure riding to be had here in the USA, and exploring on board the KLR650 is a great way to do it.

KLRing Adventure in the USA

Dangerous riding? The question during the radio talk show I was doing the day before was where the most dangerous roads I had ridden on the globe were. My initial response was the same as always: the I-405, known as the San Diego Freeway, during rush hour out of Los Angeles. Less than 24 hours later my response rang true as a car on the 12 lane superslab tried to cut through the six lanes on my side to make an exit ramp.

As the car driver cut me off, my initial response was to press the horn button. Then remembering the many stories of guns in cars around Los Angeles, my anger subsided as common sense took over. Los Angeles has been called the “killingest city in the world,” this compared to Bogota, Colombia or Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which many outsiders believe are far more dangerous. I calmed down and reflected that my first touch point in a 6000 mile ride was Southeast Arizona, and some car-whacko had nearly taken me out in the first five miles.

My plan was a short get-away from a cluttered desk and computer screen, having been snow bound and keyboarding for a month. The motorcycle of choice was a new Kawasaki KLR650. I had ridden one of the earlier models around the world so knew it to be a triple-sport model: on/off road with touring capabilities.

The first question I was asked when I suggested a pick-up date was, “You’ll want the Adventure Package, right?”

“Errrr, yes, I guess.” I answered, not sure what the package included.

When I collected the motorcycle I discovered the Adventure Package included a Tail Trunk, Saddlebags, Tank Bag, Handlebar Bag and Tall Windshield. Optional was a Gel Seat which did not seem needed given the new KLR seat design and my old sheepskin butt pad. The baggage was soft sided gear with zippers, all easily installed. The windshield took another five minutes and I was off to Arizona with 70 lbs of riding gear stowed or worn.

Stock KLR 650 with the “Adventure Package”
The new Kawasaki KLR650 that served as Dr. Frazier’s steed for his domestic adventure included plenty of touring goodies including a tail trunk, saddlebags, a tank and handlebar bag and tall windshield.

After the near knock-down by the crazed lane changer I moved to the HOV lane, thinking there would be less chance of an errant car driver taking me out from the far left lane if I was in it. As I sped along with traffic I started to notice objects lying up against the center concrete barrier. I counted four plastic buckets, the five-gallon kind. There was a mattress, garbage can and, best of all, a smashed car top carrier, one of those plastic ones long enough to hold skies. As I went by the smashed junk I knew they were not gently placed there by some earlier driver, but had likely been in one of the six lanes. A spooky thought was hitting one of them at night on a motorcycle, or during the day.

The lane splitting allowed in California took me a few miles to join. Three or four motorcycles went by me at speeds near 80 mph while I was cruising with traffic at 50. Fearless and confident they seemed, so I joined in, letting another rider take the lead after he passed me.

As I was riding by slower cars, hoping none would change lanes or drift over after the other rider passed, I remembered my days of road racing and how much trust I had placed in other riders when passing them. In California I suspect the non-motorcycle riders spend more time looking in their rear view mirrors than other states, looking for the possible motorcycle coming up behind on the white line. After some minutes my confidence level returned to levels of earlier times when riding in California, splitting lanes. However, my concentration level was at a peak level, stressed to limits. The high speeds, whacko-commuters, and road garbage I was riding through could easily be places in China or Africa.

It seemed like only weeks before I was dodging errant cars, truck, buses and motorcycles in Southeast Asia on a 200cc motorcycle, where many foreigners think the driving is dangerous. To me, riding the I-405 at 80 mph, to stay with the guy on the Harley-Davidson in front, seemed far more dangerous.

Cow-trailing did not bother the cows  nor the KLR.
Cows on the path often wouldn’t budge, standing their ground like elephants in Botswana, making riders chose an alternate route around the bovine behemoths.

My first encounter with authorities came when all vehicles were required to stop at an Immigration control station. Asked where I was going, and where I was from, it seemed like they were the same questions I was asked when riding through Mexico and was stopped there, only the language was different. It well could have been in Zimbabwe too.

Arizona was supposed to be hot and why my route was planned to the far south, to get away from the snow in Montana. Instead I rode into Gila Bend in a cold downpour and high winds. While I was putting on my electric liner a car driver yelled across the gas pumps at the gas station, “You having a heck of a ride out there. I followed you for the last 20 miles and you’re being blown all over the road.”

He was right. The side winds could at times blow the Kawasaki clear across one lane. The KLR 650 was no heavyweight motorcycle, and with the cold wind and rain I felt like I was riding Route 3 in Patagonia.

Near the Mexican border I spent an afternoon with two other KLR owners picking our way over cow trails and down some dusty roads. We had fun comparing our three motorcycles, each equipped differently but all the same 650cc model except for two being the latest, upgraded 2008 models. The riding reminded me of some roads in Namibia or Morocco: hot, dusty, dry and no one else around. None of the engines overheated nor did the wild animals seem concerned as we rode by. The cows barely acknowledged us, even when we were on their path, forcing us to ride around them, much like an elephant standing in a jungle track in Botswana.

I rode back to California, this time in the heat. Outside of Palm Springs I’d had enough of the Interstate and chose to take the twisty Route 74 through Mountain Center towards the coast. The road reminded me of one out of Nazca, in Peru, with tight curves and good pavement as it climbed out of the desert to the cool of the plateau above. The KLR easily kept up with traffic and cars would often pull over to let me ride by when I came up on them from the back.

The Adventurers’ Club of Los Angeles had honored me by asking that I present my multi-media show “SUN CHASING: FOUR TIMES AROUND THE WORLD BY MOTORCYCLE.” After the show, several of the members went outside to inspect the KLR as I loaded it for the next leg of my ride. One expressed surprise when he was told I was headed to Montana from where I was packing. His buddy reminded him, “What’s Montana to this guy, 1500-2000 miles? He just showed us in his show how he took one of these Kawasaki 650s around the world.” That got a good laugh from the group standing around. 

This picture could have been taken in the Republic of South Africa  almost a perfect match for scenery.
Where will Dr. Frazier’s exploits take him next? Though he says he’s swearing off another around-the-world adventure, we’ll have to wait and see where the next path leads the venerable traveler.

Then one of the members asked me if I had plans on taking this new KLR around the world? I thought for a few seconds, and then said, “You know, I’ve said I’m done with this around-the-world riding, but if I had the time and the money, I know this Kawasaki would do the job, just like the other one did.” I thought it was a non-binding answer, and politically correct, until one of the members pulled out his wallet and started leafing through bills, while saying, “How much do you need?” Then we all laughed again.

The Adventurers’ Club had been a presentation I had been putting off for two or three years, in part thinking what I had done was pretty mellow compared to what these men had done. After my show I was told they had seen other motorcycle shows at the Club and that mine was the best to date. I thanked them, then suggested they invite my guest that night, Dave Barr, telling them I may have ridden around the world four times solo and once with a pillion, but Barr had done an 83,000 mile global ride on a Harley-Davidson, with no legs. A week later I got a personal invitation to become a member of the Adventurers’ Club of Los Angeles, along with a note that they had invited Barr for a later date.

The days that followed were spent winding my way north from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to my home in the Big Horn Mountains of Montana. Along the way I had to re-shoe my horse. I changed to Avon Gripster tires, having found them to be a nice fit with my riding: mostly pavement with some off-road. I had used Avon Tires on my last solo ride around the world and several times to Alaska, so knew their limits, and mine, with the Kawasaki KLR 650 weight and performance.

You can find “gun guys” almost anywhere  from Bogota to Los Angeles  to Montana  only here in Montana  this one is guarding the motorcycle.
You can find “gun guys” almost anywhere, from Bogota to Los Angeles to Montana, only here in Big Sky country, this oversized cowboy keeps a watchful eye over Dr. Frazier’s motorcycle.

I also made some adjustments to the KLR to suit my riding. After trying the stock, then taller windscreen, I finally drilled three holes in the top of the taller windscreen and bolted an older KLR windscreen on top of that, to deflect high speed air over my helmet. I also had one inch taken out of the side stand after wind blew the motorcycle over twice because it stood too straight-up when parked with no weight. A plastic cable tie around the handlebar between the throttle rubber and plastic kept the throttle from slamming shut when I took my right hand off while riding.

Once I reached my home I spent several days repairing winter damage to my house and fence. Montana can be harsh in the winters, and that is why I leave when I see the first snow flakes. After three days of climbing up and down ladders for roof repairs, digging fence post holes and making plumbing fixes, I quit and went fishing.

The ride to my favorite fishing hole had not yet dried out from the spring thaw and I found the slippery mud much like that in Cambodia or Laos. While I kept the KLR from lying down and wallowing, from behind, if someone had been following, it would have been a funny show as I sometimes went from mud ruts on one side of the track to mud ruts on the other side with feet flailing.

My secret fishing hole had not been fished out. I spent two or three hours catching and releasing brown and rainbow trout. I kept one, all I needed for dinner. The KLR and I managed to flip-and-flop back to my house where the trout joined with green peas and salad to end my day. My back, legs and arms hurt, but I passed that off more to catching fish than keeping my Kawasaki upright.

It was back to house repairs until June 21, the longest day of the year. On that day a local BMW mechanic hosts a Summer Solstice Party for friends and customers at his motorcycle shop in Roberts, Montana. I thought crashing the BMW party with my Kawasaki would be great fun, far more fun than mixing cement or pounding nails while doing fence repairs.

To get to the secret fishing hole sometimes takes a little off-road riding.
After a few hard days work repairing the wear-and-tear of a Montana winter, a nice ride on the KLR to your favorite fishing hole can be just what the doctor ordered.

Bob’s Motorwerks is located about three hours from my house. I could take the pavement or opt for some gravel and dirt and cut across country, knocking off about 30 miles but adding some time depending on the condition of the off-road sections. With no luggage other than a light tent and sleeping bag I decided to let the KLR do what it likes to do, play a little in the dirt.

The gravel sections were dry and the dirt sections that had mud I could go around. My extra riding time was an hour and when I was done the bike looked dirtier than the ride really had been, and a lot dirtier than the BMWs I parked it near.

The Summer Solstice Party is an “all-comers” event. Although owner Bob Clement is a BMW specialist, no one turned their noses up as Harley-Davidsons, Hondas and Suzukis showed up. There were five other Kawasaki KLR riders who rode in to share the free camping, campfire and trade road tales with all other riders as the sun spent its longest day in sight. Some talked about upcoming trips to China or South America, others about Alaska and Australia. It was like a global mini-travelers meeting.

The next day found the stragglers headed home or for other distant points. One KLR rider was riding back down the path I had just come up from New Mexico on to attend a Honda ST rally (on her KLR). Another was headed to New York for a family visit. I was going back to work at my little house, then on to Colorado to help a friend organize a seminar.

When I parked the KLR in Denver I noticed slightly over 6000 miles had turned over on the odometer. During the three weeks I had been hassled by border patrol guards, nearly been driven off the road, dodged animals on single-track paths through the desert, ridden through mud and sand, almost been blown off the road by gale force winds, eaten wild game and met other hardened adventurers as they survived and roamed like myself.

It was an interesting reflection on what many seem to think adventure motorcycling is: that it must be outside the USA, or away from North America. I had experienced much of what I have done riding around the world, and all within the confines of only six states. There is a lot of adventure riding right here, and I saved thousands not having to fly myself and ship my bike anywhere.

After I gave that some thought I got out my maps and started to plan a new expedition. I was still remembering what I had told the guys at the Adventurers’ Club about no more of the around the world adventures. But I still could put together a pretty good adventure near home, and had the motorcycle to do it. I just needed the time and money.

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